Housemaids In Saudi-Arabia have been making many headlines lately. Indonesian and Philippino housemaids are among the most numerous in Saudi-Arabia and both nationalities have been accused of crimes against their employers and vice versa. Following the execution of an Indonesian housemaid that had murdered her employer, the Philippines and Indonesia have now banned maids from going to Saudi-Arabia for employment. These countries are demanding more strict regulations on working hours, salaries and general treatment of the maids.
When it comes to having housemaids in Saudi-Arabia I see five major problems. Number one is overall bad treatment of maids and the neglect of their rights. Second, in an otherwise totally gender segregated country, maids living with unrelated males creates many issues. Problem number three is runaway maids and the subsequent black market and prostitution. Fourth issue is the increasing laziness, sense of superiority and sedentary lifestyle that having a maid inevitably brings. And lastly, it results in children that are basically brought up by uneducated third world women from a totally different background and culture.
Currently the maids coming into the country for employment are pretty much playing a russian roulette when it comes to what kind of family they will end up in. They might get really lucky or on the other hand end up in a bad situation comparable to slavery. Some maids however are coming to the country with the sole intention of "running away" from their employers house and starting work on the black market or as prostitutes. They already have contacts and some might even have family members living illegally in the country. A freelancer Philippino maid makes more money than her educated nurse kabayan (countryman). It's a risky business but many take their chances.
On the other hand, it takes the sponsor family months and thousands of riyals to obtain the visa and permits for the maid to come to KSA. Saudis are aware of the risk of the maids leaving and some resort to keeping them "locked up" or not allowing them to leave the house on their own. In a way this is understandable, but could be avoided by imposing strict employment laws on Saudi families wanting to hire maids.
We´ve all heard of the stories rape, abuse and overworking. For sure this happens, but how common is it really? What about the other side of the coin?
I have heard surprisingly many negative stories of the behavior of maids. Some people treat their maids like family members, showering them with kindness and respect. Yet they have found themselves in a situation where the maid has left without a trace. Little things have started to disappear from the house, or the children have started to act in strange ways. Maids have been found to hit and abuse children. It's not uncommon for the maid to be caught lying or hold grudges against their employers. Some maids have deliberately tried to seduce the male members of the family. And the list goes on.
Working as a nurse on a busy hospital ward I encountered countless Saudi families with housemaids. Some of them would become the sitters of the patients, thus changing their job descriptions dramatically but also allowing me to observe more closely and talk to them. From what I perceived after many years of working in such close proximity with Saudi families from a wide spectrum, I would say most housemaids live in a pretty decent situation. Almost all of the maids were satisfied and did not want to leave, although they might have complained about the employers.
The picture that is portayed by the media I find is often a very different one, labelling all Saudi families as abusive and disrespectful. But the good stories wouldn´t make headlines or sell papers.
That said I did stumble upon cases of abused housemaids or ones that where held against their will, maids that had not been paid on time or had to work very long hours.
Living with a stranger in your house will naturally cause countless problems both for the stranger and the host family.There will be communication problems and conflicts caused by the different cultures. Perhaps this clashing of cultures is what creates most of the problems Saudi families living with maids face.
So which one is it? Are maids in Saudi-Arabia the innocent victims of maltreatment, subject to abuse, rape and slavery-type conditions? Or are they devious and cold-hearted toward their host families, greedy and not to be trusted? I think the answer might just be neither of the above or a little bit of both.